The Journey

Athletes and Injuries
By Derek Martin

He ran, twisted, jumped and cut his way into Whitworth's record books during his junior year. Then, in a simple second, Adam Anderson's entire senior year was taken away from him. An all-American running back for the Whitworth Pirates, Anderson fractured a foot in the second game of the 2009 season.

The injury not only ended his season but also jeopardized what had been bright prospects for an NFL career. “It was an eye-opener, basically telling me that my football career could be over just like that.” Anderson says.

But every so often, life offers a second chance: given his circumstances, the NCAA allowed him to play as a “super-senior,” and was permitted to compete the next year. Anderson will at least have the chance to redeem his professional career prospects.

For many athletes, though, one false move can turn an athlete's life upside-down. A career can end in a flurry of motion and awkward angles of contortion. Sprinting and worry-free, the human body is an amazing tool, but like all things, it can break. When it does, life for a gifted athlete can change radically.

Athletes in all different sports have a common enemy when their body breaks down and cracks under pressure. The result can range from having to do rehabilitation, needing surgery, to ending a career. Athletes take preventative measures such as weight lifting and training in the off-season, but injuries strike all the time. Whether it is in high school, college or professional sports, victims are claimed every day.

The most common injuries tend to involve the legs, such as sprained or broken ankles. Feet are the base for the body's motions, the foundation. Ankle injuries tend to be chronic as well, meaning the more an ankle is sprained, the more likely it is to happen again. Some measures to prevent ankle and knee injuries involve braces and athletic tape and various types of sleeves and implements to enable stabilization.

Even with prevention, injuries can still happen, a fact that athletes must accept, and it turns some away from the sport forever.

Medical progress over the past several decades has brought new treatments and techniques, resulting in faster recovery. Knee injuries are repaired that would have ended an athlete's career 20 years ago. Preventative measures have also evolved, and help decrease the chance of sustaining an injury.

But even with advanced technology and superior weight rooms, career-ending injuries are inevitable. Often, athletes will recover and return to the sport in which they participated, but their bodies may never act the same. They are slower, weaker, or more injury prone. Whatever the case is, returning can be difficult, and sometimes players can't do so.

Injuries not only alter a person's physical well-being, but can alter the human psyche as well. Injuries can make one more hesitant, and not be able to compete at the same level again. They also underscore just how fragile the body can often be.

Ed McCaffrey, former professional football player, was at the peak of his career when injury struck in 2001. He was deemed by some to be the best receiver in franchise history. Playing for the Denver Broncos, he was the league-leading receiver, and a potential hall-of-famer. In September 2001, he fractured both bones in his left lower leg, and it took him a full year to recover. He returned a year later, but was unable to play to the level he had previously performed, and had to retire the next year. McCaffrey's career, despite great medicine and technology, was over.

As McCaffrey learned, injuries steal away moments, seasons, years and sometimes careers. They can take away in a split second what an athlete has worked his or her whole life to achieve. It's the risk that all athletes face, whether they are professionals or purely recreational players. Life-changing though the stakes are, the passions and pleasure of the game – or, for the professionals, potentially rich rewards – make the risks worth taking.

Babe Ruth said, one can't “let the fear of striking out hold you back.” Fortunately for Whitworth Pirate Adam Anderson, this coming season he will be in a position to embrace that sentiment once again.